The light-reflecting metallic sheen is what makes lustre such a striking technique. Innovative and skilful potters transformed copper compounds into a fine golden layer with a lasting impact.
When light shines onto a soap bubble, it appears to change colour. We know this lustrous effect also from peacock feathers. The dazzling array of colours appears due to the change in angle of incident light. Other natural materials such as the sparkling green wings of the jewel beetle and nacre (mother-of-pearl) are widely used for decorative purposes because of their iridescence.
From the 12th century onwards, Iranian potters tried to capture this effect in their ceramics using metallic compounds just underneath the surface, creating a lustrous sheen. The resulting objects were collected profusely by Europeans in the 19th century. Without the knowledge of nanoparticles which we have today, these local potters used their skills and ingenuity to create a striking decorative effect from trial and error. It is still not yet clear precisely how this effect was achieved, despite our modern technological achievements.
Click on the chapters below to learn more about lustre in Iran, from the objects themselves to their collection, creation and conservation.